Technical Writer Jobs and Careers

Technical writers are also known as technical authors and there are between 5,000 and 10,000 technical authors working in the UK.

They are employed in-house, under freelance contracts and some writers also work for technical publishing companies.

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The central task of the writer is to explain technical information in a way that's easy for non-technical readers - or users - to understand. Their fields of work are primarily:

Technical Writer Job Description

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Type of Person

As technical writers need to understand the user's experience in order to write clear information, they need to be able to place themselves in the position of other people. That means being able to relate to their way of viewing a product or system, of processing information and indeed how they feel as they're doing so. Only by engaging empathetically, can the writer relate to the reader's needs.

Communication abilities are required in order to communicate this information to designers and developers of products, systems or information. The writer needs to be able to articulate this information verbally in meetings, or in writing, via reports and proposals.

Writing abilities are, of course, paramount. The use of correct grammar and sentence construction is vital. It is not only this, but being able to use it in a way that doesn't obstruct clear communication. The technical writer is also a skilled copywriter in this respect, knowing when it's possible to bend the grammatical rules slightly to achieve clear communication.

The writer also needs to be able to listen to the information provided by others. Technical staff may not be the clearest communicators, so the writer needs to be able to gather and retain all available information, clarifying where necessary.

The writer needs to have analytical abilities in order to ascertain the best way to translate user information. This means prioritising the procedural steps involved and presenting them in the most meaningful way for the user.

As well as an industry-specific, technical understanding of the subject area, the writer needs to bring precision to their communications. Accuracy is required if the information written is to work at the required level. The writer also needs to test everything that is being written about, so that the words match the experience. There is no room for vagueness in the descriptions produced - quantification is essential, whether it's minutes, amounts, etc.

It follows that the writer must use logical processes in all their work. There is no room for subjectivity of any kind in technical writing.

Training for Technical Writer Jobs

In practice, the profession is open to people from a wide range of backgrounds. However a degree is often expected and, sometimes, further training in technical writing is desirable. Certainly, an understanding of software documentation is highly desirable, as digitised communication is so much a part of all industrial and technical production today.

The degrees that are generally accepted are English, psychology, languages and journalism, as well as science and technology subjects. Degrees in which the student is required to write on technical subjects are clearly advantageous, as you'll have had to articulate difficult subjects in an accessible way.

A technical subject provides the required understanding of the employers' industry, although a deep, specialist knowledge isn't generally required. Indeed, many writers are able to move between technical or scientific fields. Technical communication classes are available to strengthen their level of understanding when doing so.

An understanding of a range of software packages also helps, given that much of the documentation is produced with these systems. Experience in all writing and publishing systems is valuable.

Other useful programs include: SGML, XML and HTML; FrameMaker; Java; JavaScript or VBScript; MadCap Flare; MS Visual Studio; RoboHelp; XSL; XMetaL.

Hours and Salary

Writers tend to work in teams, although it's not uncommon to work on solo projects for smaller employers, particularly in freelance roles.

Freelance writers have usually gained experience in in-house positions first. They work on contracts ranging from a week to several months, meaning it's viable to work on different projects at the same time.

Technical writers generally work a standard 37-hour week, although longer hours may be required when approaching deadlines.

Some writers work part-time. While in-house positions are office-based, many freelance writers work from home.

The majority of jobs are in England, with smaller numbers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Salaries range from around £20,000 to £40,000 a year, with freelance rates varying from £15 - £30 per hour.

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